I’ve coached and consulted with hundreds of pastors over the years and I’ve noticed a common thread in the ministry of those pastors who do not do well. The sad thing about this common thread is that it could be eliminated with one simple word. But before I tell you what that one word and common thread are, let me lay the foundation.
Most churches demand more from a pastor than the average human is capable of handling. You know the drill – they want you in the office 8 to 5, in the hospital room of every sick member, at every meeting that comes along, available for counseling at a moment’s notice, yada yada yada. This list goes on ad infinitum. No human can be all that a church expects of its pastor.
This level of demand didn’t happen overnight. Churches make these demands today for two reasons – they don’t understand the biblical role of a pastor and they have pastors who don’t understand their own role. It seems that someone cut Ephesians 4:11-12 out of everyone’s Bible. The pastor’s role is so very clear – to equip the saints for ministry, not to do all the ministries themselves.
Now here is the common thread that is the average pastor’s Achilles heel – they are too busy. Yes, it’s that simple. The average pastor tries to do too much because he lacks focus on what it means to be a pastor. And the problem isn’t that there is too much to do. The problem is pastors don’t know how to say no. Now there’s the word that all pastors need to learn how to say – “NO.”
I was coaching a pastor of a church with 100 in worship. The time arrived for our coaching call and the pastor didn’t call. I waited about 15 minutes and then went on to something else. About a week later, the pastor calls me and apologizes for not making the appointed call because he was just too busy. My response: “How can any pastor be too busy with only 100 people?” It’s impossible – unless you don’t know how to say no!
So, what’s a pastor to do? Let me share with you what I have always tried to help pastors do.
- Have a clear enough understanding of what it means to be called as a pastor to be able to set limits on what you will and will not do.
- Allow that sense of your calling to let you say no to anything that doesn’t fulfill that call – even if it means the ministry doesn’t get done.
- Focus on the things that will allow you call to be fulfilled and pass on everything else.
- Equip the laity to do most of the day-to-day ministry.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the above. But exceptions should never become the rule. Effective pastors never run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Instead they have learned to say no to every non-essential thing that comes along and to say yes to equip the saints for ministry.
Did these pastors learn to say no overnight? Of course not. Most pastors will tell you at some point they hit the wall and had to take a good hard look at the way they were conducting their ministry. Yours truly had to do the same after running around in circles for eight years. You would do well to do the same.
If you find yourself too busy, then you are in trouble – unless you learn to say no!
Question: How have you, as a pastor, learned to say no to the non-essential parts of your ministry? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.
This article is spot on. Thank you so much for this reminder of what a pastor is supposed to do. And thanks for pointing out the unrealistic expectations congregations place on the pastor. I would bet (if I were a betting person) that if every pastor read this article once a week for a year the church and the world would be a brighter, better, and more beautiful. Thank you for your ministry. Please – keep the articles coming. Rob
It is a great article until you realize that the person of whom you said, “No,” runs to the SPRC who then notifies the Bishop and you are now in trouble with no recourse.
How many pastors dare say, “no?”
Only those pastors who are willing to put their career on the line for the sake of their calling. One of the chief warnings we give at our Church Turnaround site is that church turnaround is risky business and pastors should literally count the cost before even considering engaging in the process.
Who defines what it is to be called as a pastor? Is that about the person recognizing their God-given abilities and working in those arenas no matter what the congregation thinks? Is it in the sometimes vague usually broad call documents / job contract? Is the answer to the question ‘what does this congregation need’? I ask because people want you to do things they think a pastor is supposed to do – so how are we to say otherwise? Thanks for this post!
In our understanding of the New Testament church, it’s really pretty simple. Ephesians 4:11-13 spells it out. A pastor’s job is to equip
to do the ministry, not to do the ministry itself. The apostles modeled that well in Acts 6 when the church tried to get the apostles involved in hands-on ministry and instead, the apostles “equipped” the church to deal with it – to “do” the ministry. In today’s culture, where approximately 14 churches close every day, the church needs increasingly more pastors who are serving as leaders who equip the saints to do ministry (not to know more about the ministry but to do the ministry) and spending the bulk of their time on kingdom-focused growth.
[…] From Bill Easum of 21st Century Strategies comes this counsel. […]
Learning to say no AND managing the reactivity that happens when we do is a critical ministry skill.
Once again, right on target! As one who is about to step in front of another train, this is super timely. Especially since Ephesians 4:11-12 is at the center, as usual, of the friction! It’s no surprise that, as a crucial dialogue is scheduled for early next week, your post and others are giving me clarity, encouragement, and a push to stick to the call. Thank you!
Good article Bill. Expectations for pastors can be excessive. However, it’s the responsibility of the pastor to set boundaries. Thanks for the reminder!
Sabbath amnesia can be cured.
Return to the fourth commandment!